Watching the Sunrise from the Summit of Phelps Mountain

By: Justin Devendorf

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to of hiked seventeen mountains in the Adirondack High Peaks Wilderness Region over the past two years. Like most hiking enthusiasts who frequent the High Peaks, I’ve hiked in all different kinds of conditions; whether it was getting caught in a rainstorm while hiking Dial and Nippletop, trying to maintain my footing as fifty mile per hour winds raged on the summit of Algonquin or dripping with sweat on a humid eighty-five-degree day while hiking Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge.

However, I’ve never watched a sunrise while hiking in the High Peaks. That all changed when one of my best friends, Sean O’Shell, and his adorable pitbull Dax (who is named in honor of the “Adirondacks,” get it?) climbed Phelps Mountain one morning last July.

Sean’s dog Dax – Photo: Justin Devendorf

Avoid setting up your campsite in the dark

After Sean picked me up in Albany and we let Dax stretch his paws around Washington Park for a couple minutes we were on our way up the Northway. I hadn’t seen Sean in a while, so it was very nice to catch up with him on our ride up north. Sean and I have known each other since elementary school, and he’s also the person who got me into hiking. We reached the Adirondack Loj parking lot around dusk and we checked out our supplies before we departed and made sure that our headlamps were working and that we had extra batteries. Since Sean and I planned to watch the sunrise from the summit of Phelps, we knew that we would need to leave our campsite very, very early in the morning and having working headlamps was essential.

It’s much easier to find a campsite and set it up when there is daylight.

Once we checked (and double checked) our supplies, we left the Loj parking lot and began the roughly 2-mile trek to the Marcy Dam. By now the sun had set and it was dark, so we broke out our headlamps; even Dax had a headlamp on his collar that aided us in our need to illuminate the dark trail. We reached the Marcy Dam about an hour later and tried to find a campsite. This wasn’t the first time that Sean and I have camped at the Marcy Dam, and we remarked to one another that each of the previous times we’ve camped at the Marcy Dam we’ve always arrived when it was dark. Some unsolicited advice, it’s much easier to find a campsite and set it up when there is daylight so avoid setting up your campsite in the dark if you can.

Pitch black darkness and not a sound to be heard

Sean and I did find a secluded campsite near the Marcy Dam and set up our tent. After getting settled, we agreed that in order to reach the summit of Phelps to watch the sunrise, we would need to leave earlier than we had every left before while out hiking. On previous hikes, Sean and I, as well as our other friends we go hiking with, usually leave our campsite between 4:30 am – 5:00 am, which is still quite early. However, leaving then would’ve been too late to get to the summit of Phelps to watch the sunrise, so we decided to leave our campsite at 3:00 am. We estimated that it would take us roughly two hours to reach the summit of Phelps, which was just over 3 miles away from the Marcy Dam. We then set our alarms and went to sleep, knowing we’d only have a few hours before we would need to wake up.

The next thing I remember the alarm went off and Sean and I woke up. Everything was already packed and ready to go, so within ten minutes of waking up we put on our headlamps and set off on our journey. Like I mentioned before, I’ve left early in the morning before while hiking and have experienced what it’s like to hike in the dark. Personally, I love hiking in the early morning. While the visibility is minimal, I enjoy listening to the sounds of the forest. Some of those sounds include hearing the birds waking up and chirping to one another and the rustling of leaves and snapping of twigs as chipmunks and other woodland critters search for their breakfast. These sounds of nature always bring me inner peace and motivation while I hike.

A very eerie silence enveloped the forest on this morning and continued throughout most of the hike.

This time however, not only were Sean, Dax and I hiking in complete Adirondack darkness, there was not a sound to be heard. There were no birds chirping, no rustling of leaves or breaking of twigs, a very eerie silence enveloped the forest on this morning and continued throughout most of the hike. The only sounds to be heard were the noises made by Sean, Dax and I, which was not necessarily a problem but something that I’d never experienced while hiking that early before. I remember thinking to myself “maybe all the animals were still sleeping?”

Reaching the summit and taking in the breathtaking views

Looking towards the MacIntyre Range and Mount Colden – Photo: Justin Devendorf

After two hours of hiking, which at times was tough due to the darkness and terrain as we ascended Phelps, we reached the summit just after 5:00 am. We timed it perfectly, the sun was just coming up over the horizon. We admired the breathtaking views that we were experiencing, it was everything that I’d hoped for. An orange-yellowish hue illuminated the numerous nearby mountains as daylight broke. Slowly but surely, the mountains became more visible and Sean and I were able to see Marcy, Gothics, Saddleback, Basin among many other mountains that had been previously cloaked in the shadows. Although I’d seen countless sunrises in my life, this one was different; I was witnessing a sunrise in my favorite part of New York State, with one of my best friends after completing an early morning hike. We stayed on the summit for about an hour admiring the view before descending, very proud of what we had accomplished and what we had seen.

Algonquin Mountain and Wright Peak – Photo: Justin Devendorf
The sunrise coming up over the Adirondack mountains – Photo: Justin Devendorf

Trip Recap

Lessons Learned:

If you’re motivated enough to wake up at 3:00 am to watch the sunrise, you will be rewarded with amazing views.

Book Recommendation:

Favorite Gear Used:

Gear They Wished They Brought:

  • Binoculars

Favorite Meal or Snack:

  • Nutrigrain bars

Maps, Routes and GPS Information

Route Statistics: 8.7 mi, 2,371′ elevation

Caltopo Map:

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